In what could prove to be a pivotal day at the Candidates tournament, Viswanathan Anand defeated Veselin Topalov while rivals Levon Aronian and Vladimir Kramnik crashed to upset defeats in round nine. The results left Anand a full point clear at the top with five rounds to go. Aronian, in second place, is in fact effectively a point and a half behind as he lost his personal encounter with Anand and hence a tied first would be of no benefit. Kramnik is a point and a half behind in third, along with Sergey Karjakin and Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, the two unsung heroes of the day.
Anand played e4 with white and Topalov replied with the Sicilian Najdorf, an opening that is not new to either player. Topalov had empoyed the Najdorf to good effect when he was near his peak, between 2005 and 2010. Anand too considers the Najdorf one of his pet openings, and has been used to playing it at the highest level, as early as during the Classical World Championship match against Garry Kasparov in 1995. The last decisive game between the two also saw a Najdorf, which, ominously, had been won by Anand last year.
Topalov’s choice to go for the attacking Najdorf was understandable, considering he needed a win to keep his hopes in the tournament alive. Anand may have wanted a peaceful game, considering he was already in the joint lead at the start of the round and he did not have too many tough matches ahead, but the Indian was not in a passive mood today. Anand deviated from the main line in the sixth move with the relatively unknown ‘Adams attack.’ Topalov was not too worried though and continued to reel off the moves.
The game seemed to come to boil when Anand made a few commital pawn moves on the king side, getting in h4 and then g5 in the 10th and 11th move. At this stretch, Topalov took 33 minutes to play out three moves, but managed to find the more or less critical reply each time.
The position was still equal, despite white’s advancing king side pawns. Anand had a space advantage and his pawn structure was stable. For black, there were weaknesses — his backward pawns on e6 and b7, but there was no immediate way in which white’s queen and bishop, the only major pieces left for either side, could take advantage.
The players, discussing the game in the press conference later, more or less agreed that white’s position was pleasant but not clearly winning.
Here, Topalov played a seemingly innoccous move, 31. h6, trying to trade off one of white’s advanced pawns. Added to the problem of defending pawns continued…